Public hearing on Puri Srimandir reforms held amid protest

Puri: A public hearing seeking proposals and suggestions in connection with the Supreme Court’s recommendations on Srimandir reforms was held today at the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) office amid protests by servitor groups.

Following a notification seeking suggestions in connection with the apex court’s June 8 order on reformative measures for the 12th century shrine, an expert panel led by former temple administrator Suresh Chandra Mohapatra, Police IG Soumyendra Priyadarshi and temple managing committee member Mahimohan Tripathy today conducted a public hearing.

“We will visit other religious places in the country to examine their way of functioning. But before that we will consider the opinions invited from general masses and servitors on different reform measures. A report will be submitted to the Supreme Court by the end of this month,” said Mohapatra.

However almost half an hour later after the meeting commenced, some servitors and local public protested inside the temple office alleging the wrong way of the hearing.

General Secretary of Jagannath Sevayat Sammilani, Kashinath Khuntia said the servitors associations have decided to boycott the ‘farcical’ public hearing because we were assured that the event would give us a platform for an exchange of dialogues through mutual discussions but we saw that hearing was like a grievance redressal.

Another servitor questioned that while public hearing should be carried out in open, the panel conducted the hearing one-to-one which is like a well manipulated plan.

Meanwhile, to avoid any unforeseen circumstances, the administration has deployed police officials at the spot.

Earlier speaking during the meeting, Pratihari Nijog General Secretary Madhav Chandra Mohapatra said “We have stressed on two most important issues- ban on donations and abolition of hereditary service in the temple and urged the panel to consider our pleas.”

Former Puri Municipality Chairman Surendra Das also said “I have decided to throw light Dana Dakshina, entry of Non-Hindus into temple and hereditary services issue. Just because we have become ultra-modern does not mean that we will destroy the age-old traditions of the shrine.”

Noted intellectual Birendra Hota noted that maintaining discipline is first and foremost requirement for the temple. Then comes smooth darshan and hassle free Mahaprasad seva. “I will also protest the temple administration’s suggestions for introducing ticketing facility for servitors,” he said.

Sources said after the hearing, the committee will embark on tour to major shrines including Vaishno Devi and Tirupati in the country where they will study the existing norms and other welfare activities undertaken by the respective temple boards and thereafter submit a study report to the government.

The Odisha government had constituted the experts committee on June 14, after the apex court’s directive to recommend measures for streamlining activities at the 12th century shrine following allegations of harassment of devotees and other irregularities in management of the temple.

Speaking in this matter, senior servitor Binayak Dasmohapatra said it is foolishness to compare Lord Jagannath temple to other shrines in the country.

“There are as many as 119 different services offered to these ‘chalanta pratima’ on daily basis the same way regular people carry out their daily activities. It takes a lot of painstaking efforts from the servitors. We have no problems in coordinating with the administration to streamline discipline, services, devotee darshan, and prasad seva. But before carrying out any activities like ban on donation collection, there should be a thorough deliberation because it is a matter of our livelihood,” Dasmohapatra said.